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Who wants to be an Emcee?

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Personal 8 Comments

The author as emcee. Click photo to watch video.

It all started when I was still working in radio and television. I’d been a roaming reporter, a producer, a news anchor, and a presenter. I knew people, and people knew me. What’s more, they trusted me.

One day I got a call from a symposium organizer who wanted to know if I’d be interested in moderating a debate they were organizing. I happened to be available, so I said yes. That two-hour gig made me more money than an entire week on the radio. More importantly, I had so much fun doing it!

The audience seemed to respond well, and one gig led to another, and another. Then a local theater needed an emcee for a gala, and thought I’d be a good fit. A week later I was introducing speakers and performers on a huge stage.

ESCAPING THE STUDIO

What I loved about it was the opportunity to escape from the studio, and be in front of a live audience that responded immediately to what I was saying and doing. That rarely happens in radio (or in voice-overs). Even when taping a TV show, the audience is warmed up ahead of time by some sad comedian, and told when to applaud. There’s nothing spontaneous about it.

As the emcee, I got to set the tone and the energy for whatever event I was involved in, and it brought the extrovert out in me. Eventually, this hosting thing became a nice side hustle and I got more requests than I could handle. I reacted by raising my fee, but that had the opposite effect. Because I was more expensive I became more in demand. Remember that when you’re negotiating your next VO gig!

The truth is, I’m not sure I was that good, but I soon discovered that there simply weren’t too many people who had the guts to address a large crowd. Most folks would probably pee in their pants at the idea of being in the limelight.

As a minister’s son I had had years of practice being in front of the congregation reading from scripture or doing a nativity play. Unknowingly, the Dutch Reformed Church had prepared me for becoming a master of ceremonies.

THE BIGGEST HURDLE

Being an event host is a bit like doing voice-overs: it seems easy until you actually have to do it. Here’s why:

It’s tough to be natural in an unnatural situation.

Most people become extremely self-conscious. They don’t know how to hold their hands, they can’t control their voice, and suddenly the words that come out of their mouths sound silly and insincere.

Now imagine doing all of that on stage, with lots of strangers watching your every move. Are you having fun yet?

So, depending on your mental makeup, this could either be a nightmare scenario or an interesting career opportunity for you. We all know that freelance income fluctuates, and since you’re already using your voice to make a living, why not add some public speaking to your repertoire?

To make sure you’ll get asked back after your first engagement, I’m going to share some tips with you.

HOW TO BE AN AMAZING EMCEE

The number one question people always ask me is this:

“How do you curb your nerves?”

First, you’ve got to know that nerves are normal. They’re a sign that your mind and your body are awake, alert, and willing to do well. Welcome your butterflies and thank them for lifting up your level of energy and excitement. Athletes, actors, and musicians need that extra boost to take their performance to the next level. So do you!

Secondly, the best way to prevent nerves from paralyzing you, is preparation. The next question is: how do you prepare?

When I first started emceeing, I expected the organization that was hiring me to take care of every little detail. Because they knew what was happening, they expected me to know what was happening as well. They thought I’d just go on stage and start talking.

I soon learned that it was my job as host to get as many details about the event and the speakers as possible, at least a few weeks ahead of time. If the organization was unwilling or unable to provide that, I took that as a red flag and I declined the job.

This is also your first opportunity to establish your expertise and your authority by putting your foot down. Even though you don’t organize the event, once the show starts rolling, you will be seen as the person in charge, and you effectively are. At that point you don’t want people to challenge, distract, or confuse you.

So, what sort of information do you need?

GET THE FACTS

Before you even agree to do the job, find out as much as you can about the organization(s) involved. Would you be proud to be associated with them? Even though you have no formal ties with them, you will be seen as representing them on stage. Equally important is to know your audience. You don’t want to talk down to them, or go over their heads.

As you are preparing, dig up some fun facts about the company or charity behind the event, as well as the speakers and the entertainment. That way you’ll always have something to say in case you need to stall for time.

No matter how well-organized an event may be, speakers may arrive late, the band will need a few more minutes to set up, and the prize you were supposed to hand out might vanish. During those times you’ll be glad you have something to talk about.

Be sure you are in command of the basic facts: who will be speaking when, how to pronounce their names, and what their credentials and accomplishments are. In case of performers, get the names of the individual band members, find some career highlights, let the audience know where they can find their music, and where they’ll be performing next. 

Let me stress: don’t trust the organizers to give you all the info you need. Do some digging yourself. Being knowledgeable shows that you’re not just in it for the money. A professional emcee is genuinely interested in the event, the people, and the organizations that take part.

Here’s the thing: if you are interested and involved, you will sound interested and involved, and you are more likely to get the audience interested and involved. I’ve seen emcees that looked like they were only there to collect a paycheck. It’s boring, embarrassing, and insulting.

SPONSORS

These days, most events don’t happen without sponsors. These sponsors don’t throw money at an event just because they’re in a charitable mood. They expect something in return: publicity. Perhaps they’re also a vendor at the conference.

It is your job as an emcee to enthusiastically mention these sponsors multiple times during your time on stage. Be prepared to say something nice about them, and ask the audience to show their appreciation by giving them a round of applause. If the CEO’s of these sponsors are present, acknowledge and thank them as well.

Remember: people like to feel valued and appreciated. CEO’s want to look good in the public eye. If you treat them with respect and present their company or organization in a positive light, chances are that they’ll continue sponsoring the event in years to come. This will make you look good in the eyes of the organization that hired you, and the CEO’s might think of you to emcee their next corporate event. Win – win!

Speaking of those who hired you, even though you are the MASTER of ceremonies, you provide a SERVICE for which you’re getting paid. Act like the confident professional you are, and don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t behave like a jerk or a diva, just because your face is on television, or all over YouTube.

No matter what happens, your job is to make the organization and the organizers look good. If they look good, you look good.

DISASTER STRIKES

If something goes wrong, don’t point it out. Unless the building catches fire, the audience doesn’t need to know. It’s up to you to distract and deflect. Buy time while the problem is being sorted out.

Now, in case of a real emergency, you may have to direct the audience to stay calm and head to the nearest exit. So, make sure you know where those exits are and what is expected of you in those situations. Lives may depend on it.

Another question people always ask is: “What should I wear?”

The short answer is to dress professionally and dress for the occasion. You don’t go to a gala in your jeans, and you don’t wear a tuxedo if you’re moderating an academic panel. If in doubt, ask the organization.

Whatever you wear, make sure it is clean, ironed, and it fits right. Bring some spare clothes in case someone spills a drink on you. And visit your hairdresser before the event. If you look good, you feel good, and you’ll shine on stage.

Realize that the harsh stage lights aren’t always kind to your complexion. In fact, they might make you look downright pale and sickly. To counteract that, always bring some powder foundation and apply it before you go on stage. This tip is for women AND men! Click here for a quick tutorial. You may want to consult with a makeup artist to find out which products are best for you.

Emceeing the Easton Farmers’ Market

TAKE YOUR TIME

This brings me to another point: give yourself enough time to get to the venue and prepare. Professionals are punctual. Require a parking pass or a reserved parking spot so you don’t waste time hunting for one.

Familiarize yourself with the stage and the equipment. Make friends with the sound engineer and do the soundcheck ahead of time. The words “Check, one, two, three,” followed by thumping on the microphone at the beginning of a show, are the sounds of an amateur.

Always bring a clipboard for your notes, or prepared 3 x 5 cards. Never write complete sentences but use keywords so you can speak semi-spontaneously instead of reading to the audience. When you read, you lose eye contact, and you disconnect from those in front of you.

If you’d like to put some personality into your presentations, avoid using clichés such as:

“Without further ado,”

“Sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.”

“Last but not least,” and 

“Boy, are we in for a good time.”

When speaking, make sure you face the audience. That seems to be a given, but I’ve seen quite a few emcees with their backs to the crowd as they were introducing the band behind them on stage.

Even though you may not see your audience very well because of the blinding lights, pretend you do. Let your eyes rest at various spots in the auditorium, including the balcony. This will give people the feeling that you connect with them, no matter where they are sitting.

HOW TO HANDLE THE AUDIENCE

Some jobs will require you to go into the audience to get some reactions or do short interviews. A few pointers:

Never drink any alcohol before, during, or after your gig.

Make sure your breath is fresh. Click here to find out what kind of mouth spray I use. 

Always hold on to your microphone. Once it’s taken from you, you have lost control of the situation.

Never embarrass people by making fun of their appearance or accent. You’re putting them on the spot, so please be respectful.

Be very careful with humor. It could easily backfire. I once cracked a joke about our mayor as I was introducing him, and he was not amused. Later on he called the organization that had asked me to emcee, and filed a complaint. In hindsight I had to agree with him. The joke wasn’t very funny and could easily be misinterpreted.

In doubt, err on the side of caution.

Having said that, no one likes an emcee who’s bone dry and dead serious. So, if you catch yourself saying something that makes the audience laugh, make a mental note. In the beginning of your emcee career, you’re like a comedian doing tryouts to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Here’s an example.

Sometimes you’ll be asked to hand out rewards or prizes to unsuspecting individuals. They walk up to the stage, overwhelmed and incredibly nervous. It’s your job to put them at ease so they’re able to give a short thank you speech. Quite often, these people will be crying their eyes out.

At that point I usually hand them a tissue saying: “Please take this tissue. I’ve only used it once.”

Somehow, that always gets a laugh from the audience and from the person crying. Once they start smiling, I know they’re ready for their acceptance speech.

TAKING CARE OF YOU

I’ve already mentioned the importance of your physical appearance. But there’s more. Being an emcee is a great responsibility that comes with a lot of pressure. You need to keep the show moving and make sure every element begins and ends on time. There are a lot of details to keep track of and people to please. And you have to do it all with a smile.

Some days you can’t wait to go on stage and do your thing. Other days you just want to stay home and relax. Then there are days when everything turns dark when a beloved pet, close friend, or family member ends up in the hospital or worse.

You’re bound by a contract, so the show must go on. Whether you like it or not.

Whatever is going on in your personal life, leave it at the door as soon as you walk in. You have been hired to support the event. Whatever support you need has to be put on hold.

I’ve been in situations where I’d wish I wouldn’t have to be on stage pretending everything is hunky-dory, but you know what? The distraction of being there, helping other people have a good time, helped me deal with my personal issues. For a few hours I could stop obsessing over a stressful situation and focus on the job I had to do. 

That too, is being a professional.

Two months after my stroke

SHOULD YOU DO IT?

If you feel that emceeing is something you could do, you’ve got to do it for the right reasons. For one, you are not the star of the show. You’re on stage to create a welcoming atmosphere in which all participants can shine. Your job is to make other people look good. Sometimes you’re their safety net. Sometimes you’re their cheerleader.

Whatever role you play, you’ve got to be genuinely involved and interested – even when the spotlight is not on you. I’ve seen emcees enthusiastically announce an act, and look completely disinterested and bored off-stage, even making faces at the performers. Things like that upset me more than I’d like to admit.

Good emcees are focused on others. Bad ones are focused on themselves.

Being an emcee is not for the shy. You’ve got to be

comfortable in front of a crowd

comfortable without a script

comfortable under pressure

comfortable dealing with strong personalities

comfortable thinking on your feet

comfortable being you

Now, it is often said that the last thing you leave people with, will be remembered most. So, after you have thanked the participants, the organization, and the audience for their involvement, you leave the stage and thank everyone who has helped you do your job, from the sound engineer, to the floor manager, to the girl who fixed your hair.

Be gracious and grateful. Even though you might feel exhausted and you want to jump in your car, take a few moments to show your appreciation. In our society this sometimes seems like a lost art. Let’s keep it alive!

With that, I want to thank you for reading what turned out to be a rather lengthy blog post.

I hope to see you on stage, some day soon!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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De Ezel en de Steen

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Personal 4 Comments

New Hope, PA

New Hope, Pennsylvania. Dat was de poëtische naam van het Amerikaanse dorpje waar ik na mijn vertrek uit Nederland terechtkwam.

Het sfeervolle New Hope is gelegen aan de brede Delaware rivier, en staat na Hollywood in makelaarskringen bekend als Amerika’s duurste plaats qua onroerend goed.

Oscar Hammerstein had er een buitenhuis waar hij z’n bekendste musicals schreef en de jonge Stephen Sondheim inspireerde. Main Street is gevuld met dure restaurants, gay bars, galleries vol kleurrijke “kunst,” en winkeltjes waar je wierook, pendels en kristallen kan kopen.

In de zomer trilt het dorp van de honderden Harley’s die dagelijks door de straten denderen. Om elf uur ‘s ochtends wordt er buiten al Budweiser gedronken om de taco’s mee weg te spoelen die meestal in Cheez Whiz (kunstkaas) worden gedipt. Een beter voorbeeld van de verfijnde Amerikaanse keuken kan je niet bedenken.

Het was bijna Kerst. Ik had honderd dollar op zak, en kon zonder rijbewijs of auto nergens komen. Openbaar vervoer leek niet of nauwelijks te bestaan. Dat was iets voor gekke socialistisch landen. In Nederland had ik nooit een auto nodig gehad. Op mijn Brompton vouwfietsje reed ik overal naartoe, en ging verder met de trein.

Ik was in New Hope op uitnodiging van het Instituut voor Holistische Studies. Het was de bedoeling dat ik daar NLP en hypnose trainingen zou gaan geven. Dat klinkt heel nobel, maar eerlijk gezegd was ik eigenlijk op de vlucht. Ik hield het niet meer uit in Holland.

UIT ELKAAR GEGROEID

Terwijl het met onze trainingen in Utrecht steeds beter ging, verslechterde mijn verhouding met degene met wie ik de cursussen gaf. Mijn vrouw.

We hadden beide andere ambities op het gebied van eventuele gezinsuitbreiding, en we dachten verschillend over welke richting we met ons trainingsbedrijfje uitwilden. Mijn vrouw raakte verder intensief betrokken bij wat ik zag als een sektarische beweging die draaide om een charismatische leider die over bijzondere krachten scheen te beschikken. Hoewel ik mezelf spiritueel noem, kon ik daar absoluut niet in meegaan.

Toen ons huwelijk afbrokkelde werd het bijna onmogelijk om nog trainingen met elkaar te geven. Mijn vrouw vertrok naar het buitenland om zich te verdiepen in Universele Energie. Ze vond er het begrip dat ze van mij niet kreeg. Intussen boorde ik mijn contacten aan om te kijken of ik elders les kon geven. Dat bleek in Amerika te zijn.

Sinds mijn BBC tijd in Londen speelde ik al met het idee om Nederland achter me te laten. Ik vond het te klein en te kneuterig. En nu wilde ik weg uit alles wat me pijnlijk herinnerde aan de vele jaren die ik met mijn vrouw had gehad. Zou het in de VS niet lukken, dan kon ik altijd weer terugkomen.

WAT IS SUCCES?

Daar zat ik dus, met m’n twee koffers en een plastic zak.

De eerste levensles die ik in Amerika leerde had te maken met de definitie van succes. Succes is één van die woorden die iedereen in de mond neemt, maar niemand vraagt: “Wat bedoel je daar nou eigenlijk mee?” En omdat we allemaal uitgaan van onze eigen definitie is het makkelijk om langs elkaar heen te praten, denkend dat we het over hetzelfde hebben.

Zakelijk gezien was succes voor mij het wekelijks geven van trainingen aan groepen van tenminste twintig mensen op een professionele locatie. Dat waren mensen die aan het eind van het traject het gevoel hadden dat ze er meer uit hadden gekregen dan ze er financieel in hadden geïnvesteerd.

Mijn partner in New Hope vond ook dat ze een succesvol bedrijfje runde. Ze gaf één op één therapie in haar huiskamer, en af en toe een cursus aan hooguit een man of vijf. Als ze iemand van het roken afhielp was dat voor haar een succes. Dat is natuurlijk mooi, maar elke week twintig cursisten opleiden zet toch wel wat meer doden aan de zijk. 

Ik dacht in Amerika in een gespreid bedje te stappen, maar in realiteit kon mijn partner de huur amper betalen en dat had ze me niet verteld. Stilletjes gokte ze er op dat ik mijn Nederlandse succes in Amerika kon evenaren, en daar was ik niet op voorbereid.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Allereerst was ik als toerist het land binnengekomen zonder een werkvergunning. Daar had ik in de haast niet aan gedacht. Ten tweede kende ik de kolossale Amerikaanse markt niet. Het mag dan het land van de ongekende mogelijkheden zijn, maar hoe boor je die in vredesnaam aan?

Voorbeeld: met een effectieve advertentie in een paar Nederlandse dagbladen kon je het hele land bereiken zonder dat het veel kostte. De gemiddelde Amerikaan koopt maar af en toe een krant voor de sportuitslagen en de kortingscoupons. Men gaat zeker niet op zoek naar NLP-advertenties. De meesten mensen hebben trouwens geen idee wat NLP is. Hypnose is iets voor een televisie show waar volwassen mensen als een kakelende kip door het beeld lopen.

Verder zijn Amerikanen geobsedeerd door werken en hebben ze weinig vrije tijd om trainingen te volgen. Ze nemen hun vakantiedagen niet eens op (als ze die al hebben) omdat ze bang zijn dat hun baan bij afwezigheid door iemand anders wordt weggekaapt. En als ze kunnen kiezen tussen de nieuwste breedbeeldtelevisie of persoonlijke groei, dan wint de televisie het meestal (de persoonlijke groei komt vanzelf wel door het vele zitten).

Eerlijk gezegd wilde ik na een paar maanden al weer terug naar Nederland, maar ik was bang om voor een loser te worden aangezien. Ik besloot toch te blijven, zeker toen mijn Amerikaanse partner ook in andere opzichten een partner begon te worden.

Wat was dat ook al weer over ezels en stenen? 

LANG LEVE DE HORECA

Omdat het met de trainingen voor geen meter liep en er toch geld in het laatje moest komen besloot ik plan B in werking te stellen. Ik vond een baan waar je geen werkvergunning voor nodig had.

Ik werd ober!

Binnen een paar maanden ging ik dus van een positie als trainer die me meer dan anderhalve ton per jaar opleverde, naar een plek waar ik letterlijk voor een fooi moest werken. Dat was wel even slikken. Oberen is overigens een nobel beroep. Negentig procent van de acteurs in New York en Los Angeles oefenen het met groot succes langdurig uit.

Ik wil niet opscheppen, maar als verdwaalde Europeaan viel ik beslist in de smaak. Allereerst hoefden ze me niet te vertellen aan welke kant van het bord het mes en de vork thuishoorden. Ook kon ik het witte wijnglas van het rode wijnglas onderscheiden. Dat alleen al maakte indruk. Met mijn talenkennis imponeerde ik menige gast, en jongere mannen en oudere vrouwen wilden me na een tweegangen menu graag als toetje mee naar huis nemen.

No, thank you. 

ROLLENSPEL

Voor mij was het kelner zijn een rol die ik speelde. Hoe beter ik acteerde, hoe meer geld ik verdiende. Het gaf me ook de gelegenheid om mensen te observeren, naar hun accenten te luisteren, en hun maniertjes af te kijken.

Ook leerde ik hoe ik bepaalde dagschotels kon verkopen door ze in taal te omschrijven die mensen deed watertanden. Ik leerde de kunst van “upselling.” Ik smeerde mijn gasten duurdere wijnen aan, verse kreeft, en kaviaar. En niemand verliet mijn tafel zonder toetje! Hoe meer geld ze uitgaven, hoe groter mijn fooi. Die training zou me later goed van pas komen toen ik weer voor mezelf begon. 

Intussen trainde ik mijn geheugen door het onthouden van de bestellingen van tientallen veeleisende gasten in een hectische omgeving (“Can I have the steak medium rare without capers but with a side of green beans and some dressing on the side? Make that ranch dressing. No wait, instead of steak I’ll have the chicken with mashed potatoes. Are the peas fresh or frozen?”).

Het was vermoeiend werk, lang op de benen staan, aardig blijven tegen ongemanierde mensen, maar ook een praatpaal zijn voor eenzame gasten.

“Kunt u de tafel voor twee dekken?” vroeg de oude man. “Het is vandaag mijn trouwdag, en mijn vrouw en ik gingen altijd naar dit restaurant om het te vieren. Dit was onze tafel.” Hij liet me een foto van zijn geliefde zien. “This is my Annie. She’s with the Lord now. A drunk driver took her from me on her birthday. She was the love of my life.”

Later die avond konden we nog even napraten. Hij wilde weten waar ik vandaan kwam en wat ik in Nederland had gedaan. Zijn ogen lichtten op toen ik hem vertelde over mijn radio- en televisieverleden. Het was alsof hij die wereld kende.

Bij zijn vertrek nam hij me bij de hand.

“Don’t stay in this place too long,” zei hij zacht. “It’s not for you. Call this place instead. I’m sure they’d love to have you!”

Hij duwde een visitekaartje in mijn hand.

MIKE LEMON CASTING, PHILADELPHIA

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Een Zinkend Schip

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, Freelancing, Personal 2 Comments

Wat doe je als je merkt dat je op een zinkend schip zit? Laten we de boot SS Wereldomroep noemen.

Je hebt drie mogelijkheden:

1. Je geniet van de omgeving en hoopt dat alles weer goed komt;

2. je gaat in een reddingssloep van boord, of

3. je werkt extra hard om het vaartuig drijvende te houden.

Er is ook nog een vierde, meer radicale optie, en die werd gekozen door een beminnelijke collega met een lange staat van dienst. Hier is een hint: zijn werk was zijn leven.

Toen zijn baan werd wegbezuinigd sprong hij overboord en werd later teruggevonden, bungelend aan een brug.

De zachtaardige, stille man die altijd had gedacht dat hij onmisbaar was, was binnen een week vergeten.

Laat dat maar even bezinken.

MIJN GROTE KANS

De meeste mensen om mij heen dachten dat de ondergang van Radio Nederland nog niet zo’n vaart zou lopen. Ze genoten van hun omgeving en hoopten op betere tijden. Ikzelf koos voor optie drie, maar werkte achter de schermen hard aan nummer twee.

Stel dat Gerrit den Braber net zo enthousiast over mij zou zijn als Ilse Wessel. Wat voor deuren zou dat openen? Ik durfde haast niet te dromen. Zelfs mijn vrouw wist nog van niks. Eerst maar eens horen of ik een kans zou maken. Daarna zien we wel verder, was mijn redenering.

Het was 3 mei 1997. Ik lag na een late dienst nog wat uit te slapen toen mijn geliefde me een dampende kop koffie kwam brengen. “Alles goed?” vroeg ik.

“Ja hoor” zei ze. “Ik heb net even een wasje gedraaid en naar De Dingen van de Dag geluisterd.”

“Is er nog iets gebeurd in de wereld?” wilde ik weten.

in de Wereldomroep studio

“Jij zit ook altijd aan het nieuws te denken,” zei mijn vrouw met terechte frustratie.

“Ik weet het. Het is beroepsdeformatie. Ze betalen me om op de hoogte te blijven van al het wereldleed.”

“Over leed gesproken,” zei mijn vrouw. “Weet je wie er vannacht is overleden?”

“Geen idee,” zei ik. “Vertel.”

Gerrit den Braber.”

Ik verslikte me abrupt in de hete koffie en die spoot met een bruine straal over het witte dekbed.

“Het is maar goed dat ik net de was aan het doen ben,” reageerde mijn vrouw. “Ben jij okay? Je ziet eruit alsof jij een spook gezien hebt.”

“Ik denk dat ik net een teken van het universum heb gekregen,” antwoordde ik in shock. “Zeg… zullen we straks even praten over dat trainingsbedrijf waar we het al zo lang over hebben gehad? Iets zegt me dat de tijd rijp is om daar nu aan te beginnen.”

Het was mijn optie nummer twee.

PERSOONLIJKE GROEI

Het ambivalente van een freelance baan is dat het permanente onzekerheid koppelt aan een hoop vrijheid en verantwoordelijkheid. Hoe je daarmee omgaat is helemaal aan jou. De meeste mensen hebben baat bij voorspelbaarheid en structuur, en dat vinden huisbazen, banken en de belastingdienst wel zo prettig. Je weet elke maand precies wat er binnenkomt. Saai maar betrouwbaar. En zo achterhaald.

Soms denk ik dat ik als freelancer geboren ben, omdat ik altijd al alles zelf wilde doen. Ik kon slecht werken onder domme bazen die hun baan te danken hadden aan het Peter Principle. Je weet wel, de arrogante klunzen die waren bevorderd tot een positie waar ze te weinig voor in huis hadden. Daar liepen er in Hilversum te veel van rond. Keizers zonder kleren.

Als freelancer gebruikte ik mijn vrije tijd om trainingen te volgen op het gebied van persoonlijke groei en ontwikkeling. Ik kwam daarbij uit op NLP, maar niet bij het vuurlopen waar Tony Robbins-imitator Ratelband bekend door werd. Mijn tak van Neuro-Linguistisch Programmeren was minder hype en meer therapie. Ik was voortdurend op zoek naar “het probleem achter het probleem,” en naar het ontdekken van iemands ongekende vermogens

met NLP trainer Tad James

Toen mijn vrouw en ik in Nederland de Practitioner en Master Practitioner opleiding hadden afgerond, volgden wij in Costa Mesa (Californië) de trainersopleiding. Ons doel was om ooit samen cursussen te geven. We keerden een aantal zomers als assistent-trainers terug naar Amerika, en werden in Lancaster (Pennsylvania Dutch Country) ook nog opgeleid tot hypnotherapeut.

MEDIA MOE

Ik kon dit alles combineren met mijn omroepwerk, maar op het moment dat mijn eigen programma bij Radio Nederland de nek werd omgedraaid en mijn collega zelfmoord pleegde, bleef één zin maar door mijn hoofd spoken:

“Waar doe ik het in hemelsnaam toch allemaal voor?”

Bij de geëngageerde IKON had ik nog het idee dat ik de wrede wereld kon veranderen met reportages en interviews. Als mensen over al het onrecht in de samenleving horen, dan komen ze wel in actie, dacht ik naïef. Toch bleef de zeespiegel maar stijgen, bleven ploerten aan de macht, en werden mensen het meeleven en meelijden moe. 

Ze wilden afleiding en amusement. Bloot en spelen.

Voor mij was er maar één conclusie:

Educatie (al of niet via de media) leidt niet tot transformatie.

Als informatie echt tot gedragsverandering kon leiden, dan zou niemand meer te veel eten, kettingroken of roekeloos rijden. We weten tenslotte dat dat slecht voor ons is. Maar échte verandering komt van binnenuit, en NLP and hypnose waren manieren om dat binnenste naar buiten te krijgen.

SUCCES

met één van mijn studenten

Terugkijkend ben ik trots dat we ons trainingsinstituut binnen twee jaar op de kaart wisten te zetten. Onze eerste cursus had vijf deelnemers, de tweede tien, en het werden er meer en meer. Hoewel we het niet om het geld deden kwamen er mooie bedragen op onze bankrekening binnen, en dat maakte het voor mij makkelijk om Hilversum te verlaten. 

Bevrijd van de negativiteit en stress van het nieuws genoot ik er elke dag van om het beste uit mijn cursisten (en mezelf) te halen. Ik voelde me zo happy als het lachende mannetje op de Life is Good t-shirts!

Niets wees er nog op dat ik vlak voor de Kerst van 1999 huis en haard zou achterlaten om een nieuw leven te beginnen in een ver land waar ik eigenlijk niks mee had.

wordt vervolgd

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

 


Het Mannetje van de Radio

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Dutch, International, Journalism & Media, Personal 12 Comments

Vandaag doe ik iets dat ik nog nooit eerder heb gedaan.

Ik schrijf dit blog in het Nederlands.

Wat is daar nou nieuw aan, zal je misschien denken, maar sinds ik in 2007 met dit blog ben begonnen heb ik altijd in het Engels geschreven. De meeste van de bijna veertig duizend mensen die mijn schrijfsels elke week toegemaild krijgen spreken die taal. Vandaar.

De laatste tijd heb ik wat meer contact met jullie, mijn Nederlandse collega’s, en daarom wil ik dit verhaal graag in mijn moerstaal vertellen. Als je me later op Facebook of Instagram tegenkomt, dan heb je tenminste een beter idee wie die Friese Nederlandse Amerikaan eigenlijk is.

Ga er maar even voor zitten.

THE AMERICAN DREAM

Ik weet nog goed dat ik eind 1999 op de luchthaven van Philadelphia aankwam. Mijn hele leven zat opgepropt in twee koffers en een plastic zak.

Een grote groep gillende meiden wachtte me hysterisch huilend op. Die waren natuurlijk niet voor mij gekomen, maar voor de jongens van de razend populaire band *NSYNC die in hetzelfde vliegtuig naar Amerika waren teruggekeerd. Hun grootste hit op dat moment was “Bye, bye, bye.

Na 36 jaar in Holland te hebben gewoond en gewerkt was het ook voor mij “Bye, bye, bye.” Wat ik achterliet was een gebroken hart, een bedroefde familie, fijne vrienden, en een droombaan als baas van mijn eigen trainingsbedrijf.

Het was maar goed dat ik toen nog niet wist dat ik binnen twee jaar opnieuw zou trouwen, vader zou worden, in een slepende vechtscheiding terecht zou komen, dat mijn dochtertje kanker zou krijgen en mijn derde vrouw moest leren leven met MS. Ik had nog geen idee dat ik bijna aan een beroerte zou komen te overlijden, en dat ik amper twee maanden daarna achter de tralies zou worden gegooid.

Amerika. Het land van de onbegrensde mogelijkheden!

Ironisch genoeg waren de Verenigde Staten het laatste land waar ik ooit terecht had willen komen. Ik had niets met de cultuur. Ik vond de meeste mensen maar dom, luid en oppervlakkig, en mijn taalgevoelige oren hielden niet van het accent dat ik overal om me heen hoorde.

Als ik al ergens naartoe had willen emigreren, dan was het wel Engeland. Het land van de stiff upper lip, Monty Python, Shakespeare en de BBC. Maar voor mij liep de weg naar het Verenigd Koninkrijk wel via Hilversum.

PUBLIEKE OMROEP

Mijn omroep avontuur begon toen ik als 18-jarige geselecteerd werd voor de tweede generatie van AVRO’s MINJON, de Miniatuur Jongeren Omroep Nederland. Ik studeerde in die tijd musicologie in Utrecht, en het leek me wel wat om later klassieke muziekprogramma’s te presenteren.

Bij de stoffige AVRO kreeg ik de unieke kans om alle aspecten van radio en televisie te leren kennen, daarbij geholpen door oude rotten in het vak. Ze zagen blijkbaar wel wat in me, want een jaar later werd ik gevraagd of ik samen met Tosca Hoogduin (“voor wie wil gaan slapen, maar nog niet kan”) een programma zou willen presenteren. Zo leerde ik ook producer Imme Schade van Westrum kennen die bekend stond als “de man achter Willem Duys.”

Tosca ontfermde zich als een moeder over mij, en als ze in de microfoon sprak, resoneerde de tafel in de spreekcel mee met haar diep doorrookte stem. Hoewel ze er in de studio nooit eentje opstak, werd de ruimte snel gevuld door de geur van sigaretten die ze uitwalmde. Wij raakten ons radioprogramma “Play it Again” kwijt toen een AVRO-baas op ons tijdstip een Sinatra show wilde presenteren. De man bleek voorzitter van de Nederlandse Frank Sinatra fanclub te zijn.

NAAR DE IKON

Voor mij was het inmiddels tijd om mijn maatschappelijke dienstplicht te vervullen, en dat deed ik bij de Interkerkelijke Omroep Nederland. Die periode begon dramatisch met de dood van Koos Koster, Hans ter Laag, Jan Kuiper en Joop Willemsen, vier journalisten die in El Salvador door militairen weren vermoord.

Paul (L), in een pij bij het afscheid van IKON radio directeur Barend de Ronden. Links Pia Dijkstra.

Dankzij de IKON werd ik ondergedompeld in de wereld van geëngageerde journalistiek. Ik produceerde, ik presenteerde, en ik ging als reporter de straat op. Als zoon van een Gereformeerd predikant en lid van een Gregoriaans koor, voelde ik me als een vis in het water in de wereld van de religie. Ik interviewde net zo makkelijk Eelco Brinkman, de verbannen bisschop Bär, of zijn baas kardinaal Simonis. Ook kreeg ik de kans om met schrijver Henk Barnard te werken. Henk was de man achter “Pipo de Clown” en “Ja zuster, nee zuster,” de televisie waar ik mee was opgegroeid.

Hilversum is maar een klein dorp, en omdat de IKON geen eigen studios had kwam ik vaak over de vloer bij de NCRV en de KRO. Op een dag was ik aan het monteren toen er een omroeper onwel werd in de studio naast mij. Zijn technicus stormde in paniek binnen en vroeg of er iemand was die in kon vallen. Het enige wat ik hoefde te doen was praten tot aan de pips.

Zo begon mijn carrière als freelance omroeper. Mijn stem was jarenlang voor de NCRV te horen, de KRO, de IKON en later ook de Evangelische Omroep. In het nieuwe omroepcentrum lagen de continuiteitsstudios van radio 1, 2, 3, 4, en 5 tegenover elkaar aan hetzelfde “plein.” Op sommige dagen riep ik op het hele uur om voor de KRO op radio 5, en op het halve uur voor de EO op Radio 2. Beide omroepen betaalden gewoon het volle pond.

Bob van der Houven zat in die tijd vaak voor de klassieke zender in de spreekcel. Als hij een lange symfonie draaide hadden we even tijd om in de kantine Ducktales to improviseren. Hij speelde de neefjes en ik deed Donald Duck. Het was het begin van een lange vriendschap.

EINDELIJK NAAR LONDON

Mijn Londense werkplek

Nadat de bevlogen Wim Koole met pensioen was gegaan trad Geerten van Empel bij de IKON aan als directeur. Geerten bood me de kans om een jongensdroom in vervulling te brengen: werken bij de BBC! Dankzij de vele coproducties waren de lijntjes met London kort, en kreeg ik zomaar een eigen bureau in Yalding House. Ik ging als producer bij het Religious Department aan de slag.

In die tijd woonde ik in de peperdure wijk Kensington, in de buurt van het huis van princes Diana. Een rijke erfgename verhuurde tegen een zacht prijsje kleine cottages aan BBC-personeel. Die cottages waren vroeger voor het personeel van de koningin.

Ik had destijds een bekakt Engels accent, en dat opende heel wat deuren voor me. Zo ging ik undercover bij de Britse tak van Opus Dei (een ultra-conservatieve groep binnen de katholieke kerk), ik nam muziekprogramma’s op in de Abbey Road studios, en ik lunchte met rabbi Jonathan Sachs, de chief rabbi of the Commonwealth.

Mijn sluitstuk was het maken van een uur durende Paas special op Radio One, de meest beluisterde zender. Dit programma, “A Damn Good Lie,” zou later de Sandford St Martin Prize winnen voor “excellence in religious broadcasting.”

EEN WERELDBAAN

Terug bij de IKON leverde dat alles een oer-Hollands “Whatever” op, en het werd me snel duidelijk dat ik die club een beetje ontgroeid was. Gelukkig was de Wereldomroep (RNW) op zoek naar iemand voor het programma “Kerk en Samenleving,” (beter bekend als “Kerk en Samenzwering”) dat vroeger door Pia Dijkstra werd gemaakt.

met technicus Rien Otterspeer

Omdat niemand bij Radio Nederland ook maar enige kennis van of affiniteit met het religieuze leven had, en we de paters in Afrika toch tevreden moesten houden, kreeg ik vrij spel. Dat pakte goed uit, want elke week kreeg ik post van enthousiaste luisteraars uit de hele wereld. Op een terugkeerweekend van missionarissen ergens in het zuiden, werd ik al snel omringd door blije broeders en zusters die mijn stem herkenden. Ik had heuse fans, en ze spraken allemaal met een zachte G!

Mijn eilandje binnen de Wereldomroep was mooi en ook kwetsbaar. Bezuinigingen waren op komst, en er gingen zelfs geruchten over opheffing. Het internet bleek onze grootste vijand te zijn, maar de bedrijfsleiding dacht dat wel te kunnen overleven. Ik probeerde intussen te overleven door mijn halve baan aan te vullen met omroepen en nieuwslezen, werk dat Jeroen Pauw vóór mij had gehad.

Radio Nederland zond in de meeste tijdszones uit, en dat betekende dat ik dag en nacht achter de microfoon zat. Het ergste was als er een collega ziek werd, en ik dubbele diensten moest draaien. Ik hoopte stiekem op brekend nieuws zodat ik makkelijker wakker zou blijven.

Die ervaring maakte wel dat je me op elk tijdstip een tekst onder de neus kon duwen die ik foutloos en met gepaste autoriteit uit kon spreken.

ADRENALINE MACHINE

De onrust binnen de Wereldomroep zorgde voor veel personeelsverschuivingen, en ik werd als freelancer ingehuurd voor de nieuwsredactie en presentatie. Ook leverde ik bijdragen aan de Engelse afdeling en BVN, de televisietak van RNW.

Er werden bekende Nederlanders aangetrokken om onze programma’s meer allure te geven. Ik kwam te werken met Joop van Zijl, Harmen Siezen, Noraly Beyer, Job Boot, en Hans Hoogendoorn. Het was een gouden kans om de kunst van hen af te kijken.

In m’n vrije tijd was ik actief in de NVJ en deed ik wat ik kon om de positie van freelancers te versterken. Verder gaf ik mediatrainingen aan kerkleiders die zonder knikkende knieën voor de camera wilden verschijnen.

De radio was en bleef mijn tweede thuis, en ik raakte verslaafd aan het altijd maar halen van onmogelijke deadlines, aan het werkend eten en het etend werken. Het was ongezond voor lichaam en geest, maar de hechte band met mijn collega’s en de dagelijkse adrenalinekick maakten veel goed.

MUZIKAAL INTERMEZZO

Na een lange uitzending vond ik het heerlijk om, als alle lichten waren uitgegaan, de concertvleugel op te zoeken die tussen de studios geparkeerd stond.

Op een avond improviseerde ik in het donker en zong ik zelfgeschreven liedjes, toen plotseling uit een hoek een bekende (en zeer verzorgde) stem klonk. Het was Ilse Wessel die net het laatste nieuws had gelezen.

“Wat klink je goed!” zei Ilse. “Ik had geen idee dat jij dit kon. Heb je daar nooit iets mee willen doen?”

“Ik heb vroeger wel met studentencabarets opgetreden en op bruiloften van vrienden gezongen, maar daar is het bij gebleven.”

“Nou,” zei Ilse, “als je het goed vind bel ik een vriend van mij die in de muziek zit. Ik vind dat hij je moet horen. Mag ik je telefoonnummer doorgeven?”

“Dat zou ik geweldig vinden, Ilse” zei ik. “Wat aardig van je!”

Ilse hield woord, want de volgende dag ging de telefoon.

“Meneer Strikwerda, met Gerrit den Braber” klonk een wat korzelige stem. “Ilse Wessel zegt dat wij elkaar moeten ontmoeten. Heeft u donderdag tijd?”

Zestig seconden later had ik een afspraak met één van de bekendste producers van Nederland.

Het was 2 mei 1997.

Ik kon het haast niet geloven

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Klik hier voor deel twee

 


BEING BOSSED AROUND

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Personal 10 Comments
VO Boss team

Anne Ganguzza & Gabby Nistico

Voice-overs love talking into microphones. No surprise there. That’s why a number of colleagues have embraced the podcast as a medium to spread their message.

Truth be told, I have a love – hate relationship with podcasts. You may remember my story “The problem with podcasting” where I explain why podcasts are not my thing:

“I spend very little time listening to podcasts. I’d rather read an article than listen to forty minutes of blah-blah-blah. An article or blog post I can scan in a short amount of time. I search for keywords, and skip the fluff.

Done. On to the next one.

Am I going to listen to a forty-minute podcast to possibly pick up a few useful ideas?

No thank you.

But there’s another reason why most podcasts are not my cup of tea.

I have no patience for mediocrity, half-ass efforts, or for untalented amateurs playing radio.”

This admission unleashed a storm of hate mail the likes I had never experienced before. People called me an arrogant sun of a gun, a failed, jealous blogger, and all kinds of other names I don’t care to repeat in public. It was clear that I had stepped on some very sensitive, potty-mouthed toes.

LISTENING TO MYSELF

This hasn’t stopped me from appearing on podcasts. I’m always honored that people seem to think I have interesting things to say, but here’s what you should know:

I rarely listen back to my interviews. Why is that?

Honestly, I feel more comfortable trusting my thoughts to my computer than to an interviewer. You see, writing gives me time to organize my ideas, and rephrase sentences until I’m happy with my words. Being interviewed is a spontaneous process (especially when it’s live), and it’s much easier to fumble and stumble. Once your words are out, you can’t take ’em back!

I tend to self-analyze while I’m talking, and I lose my train of thought wondering what point I was trying to make. Sounds familiar? On top of that, my post-stroke brain is often foggy, forgetful, and disorganized. What comes out of my mouth tends to be a reflection of that.

So, when Anne Ganguzza and Gabby Nistico asked me to be a guest on the VO BOSS podcast, I had to talk myself into doing it. One of the reasons for my hesitation was connected to my struggle to control my feelings in public.

 

ACCESSING EMOTIONS

It’s ironic: right after my stroke I couldn’t access my emotions, no matter how hard I tried. I could sense they were waiting behind a huge wall, but I had no way of reaching them. I felt disassociated from what was happening to me, and my speaking voice was monotone and robotic. Only after many, many hours of speech therapy was I able to begin to infuse my words with some emotion.

In March of this year, during VO Atlanta, a miracle happened. I unexpectedly broke through the impenetrable wall, and the floodgates opened! Since then I’ve become this overly sensitive and sappy guy whose eyeballs start leaking while watching sad and sweet stories on TV. I’m particularly moved by people helping people who are down on their luck.

Those who are close to me say it’s a good thing that a man dares to be vulnerable and show some emotions. They wish more men would show that side of their personality. To me it feels like I have no choice but to tear up, and I’d like to be able to control my feelings a bit better.

One of the things I have learned during my recovery is that I can’t force anything to happen. It will happen when the time is right. Perhaps I will always stay this way, and you’ll catch me crying during a podcast. Perhaps I’ll get a grip and contain myself in the future.

MY VO BOSS MOMENT

So, here’s the interview with Anne and Gabby. The one I’m not going to listen to.

Will you do the honors?

A huge thank you to the VO Boss team for having me on the show, and thank you for listening to the podcast!

Can I please get back to my computer?

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Confident Skills of a Sex God

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 10 Comments

DSC00347Dear Prudence:

I am a bit of a prude, and that’s a problem. You see, I work as a voice actor, and recently I was asked to narrate a script that turned out to be very erotic. There were certain words in the story I just couldn’t pronounce. It was too embarrassing. The trouble is: I already committed to the project. What am I to do?

That voice actor could have been me, not so long ago. Do you want to hear the story?

Well, a client from an Eastern-European country approached me because he was looking for someone with a hypnotic voice. Since I’m also a certified trainer of hypnotherapy, I thought this was right up my alley.

The client explained that I would be recording a 5-session audio program that could trance-form a shy wallflower of a man into a confident guy who had no trouble approaching women.

Before I tell you more, there’s something you should know.

THIS IS ME

Many, many moons ago, I was that man: rather nerdy, and terrified of the opposite sex. Every time I liked a girl I got this burning feeling of “move away closer.” It was a strange mix of being fascinated and frightened at the same time. I never dared to take the first step, paralyzed by an intense fear of rejection.

Of course I blamed my parents. They weren’t very touchy-feely people, and they rarely showed their affection in public. When my dad tried to explain the principles of procreation, he did it in a way only a Dutch Reformed minister could illuminate the miracle of life: in technical terms. He might as well have read me the manual of motorcycle maintenance.

Even though Dutch society is often seen as liberal and open, I grew up with the notion that nudity was naughty, and that sex revolved around dirty deeds taking place behind closed bedroom doors. One should stay away from it as long as possible. And that’s exactly what I did. At age 20, the sex life of a missionary might have been more exciting than mine.

We all know that repression leads to rebellion and eventually the hidden hedonist in me won over from the conflicted Calvinist. These days everybody knows me as the uber-confident, outrageously charismatic chick magnet I am; the guy who turned down the lead in Fifty Shades Of Grey. I beat myself up over it, and I must say… it was quite enjoyable.

But seriously, I’m a big believer in the benefits of hypnosis, and I really want to improve the life of my fellow-man. So, when the offer of narrating a self-help program came to me, I said to myself: “Why not?”

THE POWER OF SUGGESTION

If you’re at all familiar with hypnosis, you know that it’s based on the power of suggestion. A simple phrase like “Imagine being in a beautiful place where you can totally relax,” will elicit a certain state in certain people. It’s nothing mysterious. Words have the power to evoke images, sounds, and feelings. Why else would so many people be hooked on audio books?

Most hypnotic scripts begin something like this:

“Sit in a comfortable chair or just lie on a couch or a bed with your hands resting in your lap or by your side. When you are ready, begin.

Draw in three slow deep breaths… and another … still another. Each time you inhale, focus on filling your lungs with clean fresh air. As you exhale feel all the tension leave your lungs and your entire body. You feel so good. Perfectly relaxed.”

Once the listener reaches a deeper state of relaxation, the idea is to bypass all critical thinking which increases the openness to, and acceptance of more direct suggestions. And so the self-help script I was working on continued….

“You can achieve anything when you use your own power of mind. You will find yourself sleeping better. When it’s time to sleep, you’ll dream pleasant guiding dreams about becoming the guy with all the girls around him, and it’s a great dream that you enjoy having regularly. This dream further empowers you to be the Sex God you truly desire to be. That’s because you are now the guy that all the girls love. You possess the qualities that women look for and want to have a sexual relationship with.”

At this point I could see where this was going, and the prude in me started to protest, but the script went on:

“As of this moment, you can successfully flirt a woman into a ‘more’ situation, and then provide the best nights’ entertainment, and an amazing night or weekend of shagging, and she will always beg for more.”

I beg your pardon?

I had to stop the recording, and wondered: “Am I really saying this? I would never use the word shagging. It’s vulgar. Do I really want to go on?

“10… going deeper, deeper and deeper…
9… more and more relaxed…
8… deeper and deeper, than before…”

The temperature in my sound booth began to rise, and I took my sweater off. It felt like there wasn’t enough air in the small space. What on earth had I gotten myself into?

“7… deeper still…”

After taking a deep breath, my inner voice started reading the words in front of me:

“Imagine that you are with a lover, in a hot tub, and you are still making love and feeling her pleasure because you are very sensitive, caring… slow when she needs slow, fast when she needs fast, deep when she needs deep, just stimulating the first 1” of the entrance near the G-spot, and sometimes throbbing and contracting to bring her greater pleasure, and you KNOW that being a gentle and caring lover is more important, and by practicing what you are doing with care and gentle warmth you enhance your own sexual talents, enhance your penis’ awareness of how to make love, and she can feel it and it thrills her.”

Here’s where I completely lost it. This wasn’t a hypnotic self-help induction. This was pure, unadulterated porn, and my awareness of it didn’t need to be enhanced. It made me utterly uncomfortable, and I had to ask myself one question:

“Do I want to be known as the Ron Jeremy of voice-overs?”

Of course not!

MIND OVER BODY

To make matters worse, my mind decided to convey this message to my muscles, and my lips responded appropriately by refusing to say the p-word. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t pronounce it.

It was as if I had regressed. That sometimes occurs when people are under hypnosis. My prude, Protestant self was penalizing me for what I was doing. I’ve had this happen once before, when I had to read a short story filled with brutal, gratuitous violence. It was too graphic. I just couldn’t do it.

The problem with this job was that I was working on session five. I had recorded the previous four, and the illustrious Uncle Roy Yokelson had already added hypnotic music, and mixed and mastered the audio. The finish line was in sight. I’d also signed a contract, and it would be silly of me to back down because of a stupid two-syllable word.

TAKING A BREAK

I decided to leave my studio and walk around the block. Once I had cooled down a bit, I zoomed in on the heart of the matter:

I was taking this way too personally.

These weren’t my words. This wasn’t my script. I was just an unidentified voice, whispering in someone’s horny ear.

“Get yourself out of the way,” I said. “Be a man, and do the job you were hired to do. You’re a voice actor. You get paid because you’re good at pretending. Now, get in front of that microphone, and finish what you started!”

These were almost self-hypnotic suggestions, and they did the trick. I was only a few pages away from completing this project, when I spoke the following words:

“Your subconscious now hears these special suggestions deeply and profoundly: I am sure and confident about myself. I know what a woman wants and I have the skills to deliver it. So, hold that image of successfully flirting with her in your mind. No Fear – No Intimidation. You walk tall and proud, shoulders back with total and complete self-confidence and purposely walk up to this woman who is everything you have always wanted and here she is in body and soul. You visualize being her lover, and her going absolutely wild with you and for you.

Your own mind reaffirms: I am a wild sexual tiger. Hear me roar.

LATER THAT DAY

A few minutes after I was done recording, my wonderful, gorgeous wife came home.

“How was your day, honey?” she asked.

“Fine,” I said with a smile. “Totally fine.”

She stared at me for a moment.

“What’s that look in your eyes,” she wanted to know. “Is there something on your mind?”

“Sweetie, you look absolutely amazing,” I said. “Let’s go upstairs.”

“Right now?” she asked.

“Right now!” I roared.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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The Essence of Excellence

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media, Personal 7 Comments

Some have called him the greatest performer of spoken word of our time.

His videos have brought YouTube viewers to tears. His powerful performances turned comic book addicts into poetry lovers.

In 2000, he won the individual championship at the National Poetry Slam in Providence, Rhode Island – beating 250 North American competitors. In doing so, he became the first-ever winner from outside the U.S.

His first published collection, Visiting Hours, was the only work of poetry selected by the Guardian, Globe and Mail newspapers, for their Best Books of the Year lists in 2005.

And yet, most people have never heard of him.

OLYMPIC MOMENT

All of that changed when Shane Koyczan recited his poem “We Are More” at the opening ceremony for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver, British Columbia. The man who was born in the obscure town of Yellowknife in Canada’s Northwest Territories, wowed the world with his words.

Most footage of that performance is of very poor quality because the Olympic Committee regulates the rights to the original broadcast and we’re stuck with amateur video.

Here’s an extended and animated version of “We Are More” (click on Watch on YouTube).

The reason I’m writing about Shane today can be summarized in one word:

I N S P I R A T I O N

Most days I wake up on the right side of the bed and everything just flows. Some days I feel stuck in a rut and I catch myself doing the same things I’ve always done, hoping to get a different result. It never works, does it?

To some, living life on cruise control might be the ultimate goal, but as soon as I find out that my brain has secretly switched on the autopilot, I tell it to turn it off and start doing some stretching exercises.

A big part of me has this inner urge to always learn and grow and expand what I am capable of. In order to do that, I need to be challenged beyond my boundaries. It’s the best way to escape my cozy comfort zone. But where to go? Whom can I turn to?

I am always on the lookout to emulate excellence. If I want to be the best, I have to learn from the best. That might sound straightforward to you, but in our culture that is not necessarily the predominant philosophy.

ROLE MODELS

I never understood why medical researchers seem to spend more time studying illness instead of learning about wellness. During their training, doctors-to-be poke around in dead bodies, supposedly learning the secrets to saving the living. They spend most of their time around the sick and the dying, and some of them eventually become specialists in a particular disease.

The study of the dysfunctional is the norm, but it doesn’t have to be.

In certain schools of Oriental medicine, doctors get paid to keep the people in their care healthy. Their focus is much more on preventing the root cause of a problem, rather than on treating or alleviating symptoms. Instead of trying to find a cure for diabetes, they are teaching their “patients” (they call them “students”) about a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

It is a well-known fact that Western doctors have more problems with drugs and alcohol, and a higher suicide rate than their patients. (source) Most Oriental healers practice what they preach and keep on practicing well into their senior years. In their culture, the wisdom that comes with age is held in high regard, instead of hidden in underfunded assisted living facilities.

FINDING FAULT

Like doctors, many professionals are trained to spend most of their time on sick systems, tracking and analyzing problems. Psycho-analysts come to mind, as well as lawyers, economists and -dare I say it- politicians. We have become masters at focusing on what’s wrong and finding someone or something to blame.

“Fast food and soda made me fat. I didn’t do it!”

What would have happened after 9/11, had we invested just as much money and brain power into building bridges between people, cultures and religions, as we have invested in beefing up homeland security? Or have we ignored the causes while we were busy trying to treat the symptoms?

Why not focus on creating beauty and cultivating friendships as we fortify our nation to prevent more death and destruction? How can we sow the seeds of peace and understanding if we spend all our money and manpower building more barriers and billion-dollar walls to protect us? Is that a sign of desperation or of inspiration?

CHOOSING POETRY

I admit it: I have my dark days. When I look for inspiration, I sometimes turn to poetry and to my favorite poet: Shane Koyczan. He’s called a spoken word virtuoso for a reason.

As a professional speaker, I admire the way he hammers his words in with heart and with soul. They almost burn into my brain. I’d love to emulate his mastery of language and moving delivery. His artistry is the challenge I am looking for. His depth is what I aspire to.

Shane speaks to me in a way few other people do. One moment he seems to tenderly touch his words with velvet gloves, only to start building a tremendous crescendo of ideas and similes and associations my mind tries to process intellectually but cannot, until what’s left is an overwhelming feeling of intense exaltation.

It’s almost a hypnotic induction.

A great example of his style is the poem “Beethoven”. Even though the quality of the recording leaves a bit to be desired for, it is a monumental performance.

Shane Koyczan still performs his work for sold out houses, but he has done something else. He created a new genre called Talk Rock with his band the Short Story Long. His unique mix of song and verse won him the “Best New Artist” award at the BC Interior Music Awards.

WORD POWER

Even though the poetry corner at my bookstore seems to be shrinking, the spoken word is alive and kicking. And I can’t help but wonder: what would happen if the world would feed itself with the art of poets, painters, dancers and musicians instead of with the language of hate, discrimination, intolerance, fanaticism and violence? 

I also wonder how we as voice-over artists can do our part to change this world through the words we speak.

If you ever need inspiration, just listen to Shane.

To me he personifies the essence of excellence.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS What inspires you? Who is your inspiration?


4 Ways To Get From Good To Great

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 3 Comments
the author singing in a choir

The author singing in a choir

What does it take to become a successful voice-over?

It has a little bit to do with having pleasant pipes, and a whole lot with other factors. Some of those factors can be influenced. Others are beyond our control.

A few weeks ago, one of my students had an interesting question for me. Professionally speaking (pun intended, always), she was doing okay. Clients loved working with her. Business was getting better every year. Yet, she felt that something was preventing her from reaching that proverbial “next level,” and she couldn’t figure out what to do.

“Paul,” she said, “I’ve read all the books on voice-over I could find, including yours. I follow the best bloggers. I listen to podcasts, and I watch videos on VO. What am I missing? I seem to be stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results. How do I move forward from here?”

“What you’re really asking,” I said, “is how to get from good to great. Am I right?”

“Absolutely.”

“Well, the first thing you have to realize is that growth is a gradual process. You don’t expect a seed to bloom the next day, do you? We all grow in different ways at different speeds. 

People can teach you new techniques, but it may take a while before those techniques become second nature. However, at your level, techniques are usually not the issue. Other things are holding you back. One of the main obstacles to growth is familiarity. You said it yourself.”

“What do you mean?” my student asked.

“You can call it coasting, if you like. You just told me that you were stuck doing the same thing the same way, getting the same results.

Secondly, you seem to be looking for inspiration and guidance within your field. Again: you’re focusing on the familiar. You already know how to interpret a script. I think you can handle a microphone. You don’t better yourself by doing things that are easy and predictable. That’s like working out without weights.

If you really want to grow as a person and as a professional, you’ve got to look elsewhere. That’s where the challenges will be, and challenges will help you grow. Now, here’s the amazing thing: growth in one area of your life will positively influence growth in other areas of your life.”

“Any suggestions as to what I should do?” my student asked.

“Plenty,” I said. “Here’s one:

1. Start leading a healthy life.

A year ago, one of my students was in bad shape. He was overweight, he sat in his recording booth for long periods of time and his diet had way too much sugar, fat and salt in it. It affected his mood, his self-image, and his self-confidence. I could hear it in his voice. His breathing was very shallow, and he sounded insecure.

One day, he decided he had had enough, and he joined a gym. He exercised at least five times a week, and started shedding pounds. In the kitchen he began using fresh, organic ingredients, and he filled his plate with fruits and vegetables. Within two months, he felt more energetic and alive, and people told him he looked better.

His renewed energy and enthusiasm could be heard in the way he spoke when the mic was on, and when the mic was off. Because he felt better, he performed better, and he began booking more and more jobs. For him, leading a healthy lifestyle was the key that brought him to the next level.

Here’s another thing you can do:

2. Learn a foreign language.

Forget tongue twisters and other vocal exercises. Start studying that language you’ve always wanted to learn! A new language is a doorway to a different culture. Every language has its own rhythm and melody. You’ll even start thinking differently when speaking a foreign language.

Becoming bilingual benefits the brain. It improves cognitive skills that don’t even have to do with language. Bilinguals are better at solving puzzles, better at staying on task, and being bilingual can even delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.

One of my students decided to learn Italian at a later point in life. It took her a couple of years, but after a few vacations near Florence she was almost fluent. As a bilingual voice talent, a whole new market opened up. She claims that she feels much more flexible, vocally speaking, and that it has become easier to do all sorts of accents and character voices.

But there’s more you can do to take your career to the next level:

3. Join a community theater or improv group.

Voice-overs are usually so stuck to their scripts… they have a hard time letting it go, and letting it flow. When you’re forced to memorize your words to perform on stage, you not only train your brain. You also learn how to speak your lines, instead of reading them. It’s also a very physical experience.

Rather than talking into a microphone, you get to inter-act with real people who re-act to what you’re saying. You get instant feedback on how you land your lines, not only from your fellow-actors but from the audience. You have a whole new way of getting into character.

Improv classes are a great way to learn to loosen up, and become conversational. Name one client who doesn’t ask for a “conversational read”?

I remember an audio book narrator who was stuck in his studio most of the time. Some people thought he was anti-social. When he finally joined an improv group, he made new friends who thought he was witty, funny, and charming. Two years later, the introvert has become quite extroverted, and his loyal listeners love the way his audio book characters bounce off the page like never before.”

“Those are some great suggestions,” said my student. “Is there anything else you’d recommend?”

“Well, how about you…

4. Take singing lessons, and join a choir.

Voice-overs talk for a living, yet too many of them have no clue how to use their voice. Their range is limited, their diction is off, and after half an hour, vocal fatigue sets in. Using your voice means using muscles, the thyroarytenoid muscles and the cricothyroid muscles to be exact.

Taking singing lessons is like going to the gym for your voice. You’ll learn effective warm-ups, proper pronunciation and projection, and you’ll train the muscles needed to produce sound. After a while, your voice will become stronger, clearer, more resonant and more flexible. Your listening skills and timing will improve, and you’ll be able to infuse your scripts with musicality.

On top of that, you’ll have yet another reason to get off your behind, and rehearse with your choir. There’s nothing like the sweet sensation of voices blending, creating harmonies and melodies that soothe the soul.

The main thing to remember is that everything is connected. The change you make in one area of your life is likely to affect other areas of your life.

Whatever you decide to do, you are the goose with the golden eggs, so you had better take good care of yourself.

Step out of your comfort zone, but be patient. It might take a while before you see the payoff of your pursuits.

Eventually, things will fall into place in a most surprising and delightful way. 

Take it from me, the exercising, multilingual, singing amateur stage actor!”

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

PS Be sweet. Please retweet!


A Sundial In The Shade

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal 2 Comments

Taking the Oath“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been subject or citizen”.

Together with 66 other people from 31 different nations, these were the words I spoke in Philadelphia on the last day of July, 2009. With it, a six-year process came to an end.

In less than a minute, this subject of the Kingdom of The Netherlands became an American citizen. My first order of business: filling out a voter registration form.

Prior to the ceremony, I went to Independence Mall to walk in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers. The famous crack in the Liberty Bell was a stark reminder of the fact that at a certain time in history, these truths were anything but self-evident:

“that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. 

Looking at the world today, I was painfully aware of two things: for many, these truths are still not self-evident. For many others they have become so obvious that they are taken for granted. Some have turned the phrase into “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Crappiness.”

BRINGING WORDS TO LIFE

America’s most interactive history museum is only a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to the National Constitution Center, you’re in for an experience that will stay with you for a long time. This Center brilliantly manages to do what we as voice-over pros do for a living: bring words to life.

Every visit starts with “Freedom Rising,” a multi-media presentation that connects visitors to the story of the U.S. Constitution. To my surprise, this production was narrated by a voice-over actor who’s actually there in person, serving as tour guide on a historic journey.

In Signers’ Hall, I came face to face with the man who once said:

“Tell me and I forget.

Teach me and I remember.

Involve me and I learn.”

This man was Benjamin Franklin. I know he wasn’t speaking about our line of work, but as far as I am concerned, he hit the nail on the head. Unknowingly, Franklin was speaking about the Narcissists, the Professors and the Movers of our profession. What do I mean?

THREE TYPES OF NARRATORS

All of us have come across audio books narrated by people who seem to be so much in love with their own voice. These people turn a travelogue into an ego-trip. For me, it’s the biggest turn-off in audio books: two lips of a narcissist.

The Professors on the other hand, haven’t learned the following lesson: people don’t like to be lectured. People prefer to be entertained and engaged. That’s why movie stars make more money than academics.

The educational staff at the Constitution Center was obviously aware of that, when they hired Movers to shake thing up a bit.

Movers are voice-over artists who selflessly devote themselves to the words given to them, and who use their voice as a vehicle to engage and move the audience. As a result, the listener is drawn in and drawn out; totally absorbed and involved.

Movers masterfully manage to infuse and energize dry letters on a page with meaning and emotion, bringing them back from the dead in a way a musician transforms scribbles into sounds. However, it takes a true artist to turn those sounds into music that touches the heart, feeds the soul and moves the mind.

TAKING THE OATH

When I took the Oath of Allegiance, I became part of “We the people,” the people of a nation where Freedom of Expression is a constitutional right. The Citizen’s Almanac I received as a welcoming gift, describes it as follows:

“Americans can speak and act as they wish as long as it does not endanger others or obstruct another’s freedom of expression in the process”.

As voice-over artist, this freedom of speech guarantees that I can do what I love without fear of persecution or imprisonment. I can pursue my interests and happiness, as long as it does not interfere with the rights of others.

For that, I feel tremendously privileged and grateful.

Without it, all of us would be -as Franklin put it- “a sundial in the shade”.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Bouncing Back and Starting Over

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Personal, VO Atlanta 16 Comments

Heads up: this is going to be one of my more personal blogs, so if that’s not your cup of tea today, you might want to read one of the older stories in the archive.

If, however, you’re one of the many people who has checked in with me about my health, I hope the following will light a warm flame of curiosity and a spark of inspiration.

Yesterday, as I was preparing for my VOBS interview, I sat down at the kitchen table and asked myself the following question:

It’s been a year and four months since I had my stroke. What have I learned?

Well, for starters, my physical and psychlogical health has much improved, but I have not made a full recovery. That would be unrealistic because the brain cells that are lost won’t magically grow back. On a positive note, my brain is constantly making new neurlogical connections to allow other brain cells to take over.

On a good day, the people who meet me and who don’t know I’ve had a stroke, don’t notice anything. But there’s a lot going on under the hood that they aren’t aware of. I can’t attribute every symptom to the stroke, but I am definitely not the person I used to be. What does that mean in practical terms?

THE NEW (AND NOT SO IMPROVED) ME

First off, keep in mind that every stroke is different, and the consequences depend on what part of the brain has been affected, how much has been affected, and for how long. Click here for the warning signs. I was incredibly lucky, and yet, here’s what I’m dealing with on a daily basis:

– I often feel disassociated from reality, as if I’m living in a dream. I’m more of an observer than a participant
– I can’t access parts of my past because of memory loss
– I have difficulty retaining information and I need frequent reminders
– My eyesight has worsened
– My speech is affected. I’ve had months and months of speech therapy to improve my enunciation and expression, but when I’m really tired I start slurring my words
– I have word finding issues and facial blindness
– It’s hard for me to stay focused; it’s easy to get distracted
– Sensory overload is still a problem. My brain tends to overheat quickly when bombarded with many stimuly at once
– I’ve become super sensitive to sound (misophonia). Click here to read about it
– In the first months after my stroke, I found it hard to access my emotions. Now the opposite is true. I’m a big bowl of mush (as you will see on my interview with George and Dan)
– My voice tires quickly and gets hoarse
– I’ve got a limited amount of energy. I can function at full speed for about three hours. Then I’m pretty much done

Here’s what has improved since my stroke:

– I’ve learned to be more patient, and to accept help without feeling guilty
– I’m listening to my body. Most of the time, my body is telling me to slow down and I pay attention. This way I take away unhealthy stress
– I’m living more in the now. I can get lost in the moment and totally enjoy it
– I’ve become more emotional, and I’m not afraid to show it
– I am more appreciative of what I have, who I am, and of the people around me
– I’ve stopped chasing superficial success and approval. I’m no longer trying to prove to the world that I matter
– I’m trying to do more with less. I am creating opportunities to attract work. Instead of jumping at every audition, I only go for what jumps out at me

LEARNING ABOUT LIFE

Beyond that, there are other lessons I have learned. Before I share them with you, please know that these are my personal beliefs. It is not my intention to convince you of anything. It’s your job to find your own truths in this life, preferably without coming close to dying. I just want to give you some food for thought. Let’s begin with dish number one:

Stop looking for the Why.

When disaster strikes, it is so tempting to ask: “Why me, why this, why now? What did I do to deserve this?”

It’s tempting, but it’s not helpful.

Here’s the thing. Asking “why” is really looking for a logical, rational explanation. It’s looking for a reason. Quite often, the bad things that are happening to us are unreasonable. They make no sense. They defy logic.

Why would a child get cancer? Why would an innocent person get hit by a drunk driver? Why do bad things happen to good people? Is there a punishing God who wants his flock to suffer? If God is love, why is God a sadist?

People looking for the “why” are often looking for something or someone to blame. Or they blame themselves with the torturing question “If only…”

They think that by turning the clock back, or by identifying that blameworthy someone or something will help them accept and heal from the evil that’s ruining their lives. I don’t believe it does because there is no “why” big enough to explain needless, endless suffering, and so many things don’t happen for a reason. Like my stroke, they simply happen. End of story.

Now let’s focus on beginning a new one.

If you want to move on and get better, you must leave the place of guilt, bitterness, anger, and hurt. You have to let go of the grudge and the resentment and be okay that some questions will remain unanswered.

You can’t change what happened. I can’t un-have my stroke, but I can draw on my experience and use it as an opportunity to rediscover myself and be there for others. Here’s something else I feel strongly about:

A stroke is something I had. It’s not who I am.

I hate it when I hear someone who hasn’t had a drink for thirty years say: “I am an alcoholic.” Or someone who’s been cancer-free for years say: “I am a cancer survivor.” They identify themselves with something they no longer are or have. They’re tied with chains to the past.

I’ve been a vegetarian since I was seventeen. I don’t tell the world, “I am a meat eater.” That’s absurd.

You see, whatever you focus on regularly tends to e x p a n d. It magnifies, and we are more likely to attract it. This is true for things that are positive and not so positive. So, be careful what you focus on.

Be honest:

Are you focusing more on who you were, or on who you are and aspire to be?

Listen, we are so much more than our past behavior. That’s just a small part of our identity. We’ve been there. We’ve done that. It’s OVER. That’s why I don’t see myself as a stroke victim or stroke survivor. I refuse to be defined by that small slice of my existence.

I’d rather see myself as a lover of life; as an envelope-pushing pot-stirring person who just happens to talk for a living.

Now, I’ve always had a problem with generalizations. ALWAYS. The irony is that every belief we embrace is a generalization. Here’s another one:

Don’t think in absolutes. Discover the exceptions to the rules. YOU can be exceptional!

Understand that what people believe to be true only reflects their level of knowledge (or ignorance) and (in)experience, plus what science has been able to prove. That knowledge gets outdated very fast.

Not so long ago a guy in the Netherlands broke his backbone and was told he’d never walk again. He believed his doctors. Then a medical team invented special 3-D implants, put them in his spinal column, and guess what? He’s walking!

People are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible as we speak, and you can be one of those people. Be a rule breaker. Go against the grain. Prove the establishment wrong. You don’t move forward by playing it safe.

As I’m sure the late Steve Jobs would acknowledge, the people who end up changing the world are often the crazy, unreasonable ones. It helps if you…

Don’t believe everything the experts tell you. It makes you lazy and dependent.

My cardiologist is a fine doctor with many years of experience. He knows a lot about a little. He told me I wasn’t a stroke risk. Boy, did I prove him wrong!

My neurologist just said to me I wouldn’t make any more progress. I’d have to learn to live with my limitations, and things will only go downhill from here. I know he means well and doesn’t want to get my hopes up, but I have respectfully decided to ignore him. I’m not falling for the placebo effect of a person in authority imposing his limited model of the world on me.

I believe in the power of the body and the mind to continue to heal, and I will do everything I can to make that happen. I’ve changed my diet, my lifestyle, and my thinking. Progress WILL continue!

Speaking of not relying on authorities… Ever since VO Atlanta I’ve had terrible swelling in my feet, legs, arms and hands. The swelling started to itch and soon I was covered in self-inflicted scratch marks. Many so-called specialists looked into it but couldn’t find a cause or a cure. They said I had to put some cream on my limbs and learn to live with it.

Did I give up? Of course not!

A good friend of ours is an acupuncturist, and she started a series of treatments. Within weeks the swelling went down, and a month later it was gone. Why her treatment works is still a mystery, but I don’t care about the why. All I care about is the result.

Please understand that I’m not against seeking expert advice. But please, use your own brain for a change. Do your homework. Just becuse someone’s wearing a white coat and a stethoscope doesn’t mean you should believe everything that’s being said.

Deep breath… In…. and out….

No one knows better who you are than the person staring back at you in the mirror. That person is powerful, loving, intelligent, kind, and posesses intuitive wisdom. Trust that wisdom. One day, it might save your life or the life of someone else.

THE GIFT AND THE PURPOSE

Looking back at the past sixteen months, I’ve concluded that I was given the gift of life for a second time in my existence. This gift comes with tremendous joy and great responsibility. I was given an opportunity to start over and redefine my purpose for being here.

In all humility I feel that part of my purpose could be to inspire those around me through my writing and my actions. I want to continue to touch lives with my words and by living my truth.

I secretly hope you will do the same.

It’s the only way to make this place a better world for all of us.

In the words of Buddha:

“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”

So, be grateful, be happy, and keep on lighting candles!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

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